This post is a very special treat for me and anyone who has followed the blog for a period of time. Last year, I developed a “Student Voices” series aimed at allowing students I had taught in a project-based learning classroom (The Studio) to speak to its impact on their high school experience. I’m pleased as punch to share with you an essay from one of these students who has since graduated, been accepted to Georgia Tech, and is now a thriving freshman in her second semester there. I won’t ruin what she has to say by commenting on it much here, but please have a look inside and see for yourself what she has to say about her experience four years in the making.
Also, something to be excited for this upcoming Friday is my first post on the #zineculture project. Stay tuned.
“Coming into college, I felt so much more prepared for the work load and routine that I was getting myself into. Teachers and administrators at my high school have asked me multiple times if high school prepared me for the challenges of Georgia Tech, and I’ve answered yes each time. Giving it a second thought though, it wasn’t my high school in general; it was purely and simply project-based learning in Studio.”
Halfway into my second semester of college, I still find it hard to believe that my first semester flew by so fast. It was a blur—an exhilarating, difficult, fun, scary-at-times blur. College is certainly an adjustment, from learning how to live with a roommate in close quarters to becoming more independent, becoming involved on campus to figuring out how to prepare for those infamous finals, it got pretty overwhelming at times. But hey, I’m here to tell about it so that must mean I survived.
I will say that my biggest adjustment upon coming to college was learning how to study. In high school, I honestly relied mainly on natural intellect to get me through quizzes and tests; school came easy to me, always had, so I never had to put in as much work as many of my peers. During my first finals week, I probably studied more than I had in all four years of college, and even then, I felt like I should have studied for a dozen hours more. Georgia Tech has a way of stressing you out by the feeling of not studying enough; I’ve even been stressed about not being stressed because at Tech, you feel like you should always be stressed. It’s a little messed up, but I love it.
Ironically, the one thing most people stress out about most is group projects and class presentations. Don’t get me wrong, I get nervous about group projects solely because there’s no way I can predict the work ethic and intelligence of the people I have to work with, but the presentation itself doesn’t scare me nearly as much as it did five years ago.
Last week, my English class (yes, we do have to take English at an engineering school) got assigned a group project which was to be presented to the class in a media-rich format. I heard mumbles from around the room about hating presentations, being nervous about presenting in front of people, and public speaking in general. For me, that moment was eye-opening; in the four years I had spent presenting in front of my peers in the project-, and presentation-, based learning class that was the Studio, I had been told that I’d get to college and hear those sentiments from others. This was the first time I had experienced it. Although we won’t present our projects (which are collaborative essays, AKA not projects at all compared to what I did in Studio) until next week, I know that I’m more prepared to present for my peers than anyone else in my class. Not only that, but I understand how to build PowerPoints to not look like PowerPoints, but rather more professional presentations. It’s now that I can truly appreciate that aspect of my experience in Studio.
In addition, a couple weeks ago I went to a meeting for Tech’s Ramblin’ Rocket Club. They introduced a project dedicated to being the first collegiate organization to put a rocket into space, and wanted people with technical experience on the team to design, build, and carry out the whole plan. One of my good friends has had an abundance of experience designing and building rockets, and although I had interest, I wasn’t sure that I was qualified. In talking to the professional staff member in charge of the project for the club, he asked me if I had built anything in high school, and I immediately thought of the time my Studio group and I built a multi-touch table on a whim in two weeks. His response was one of shock; he had never done anything like that in high school, nor had the opportunity to do it. Studio gave me that opportunity.
I look back on memories of the project-based learning class fondly. My best friends in high school were the group that I worked with on a consistent basis, and though we may not be super close and connected now, we can still get together (on breaks at least), reminisce, and have a great time. When I went to dinner with one of my cohorts after the December Expo over our winter break, we spent a solid twenty minutes talking about all of the crazy things we did in Studio—wild ideas, deciding to act on the wild ideas, procrastinating the research and skipping straight to executing the wild idea, and presenting the wild idea in physical form to a room full of wide eyes and open mouths. We created a timeline out of pictures and QR codes. We made an art exhibit with near field communication tags (NFCs) that linked to podcasts. We turned a piece of cardboard into a touch screen with a Wii remote. And when we were split up for the last project of our last year, we built a multi-touch table in two weeks on top of the projects we had in our separate groups.
The class put no limit on imagination and creativity. College has been fun, and I’ve enjoyed classes, but no learning experience has come close to what I was able to do in Studio. It certainly built my work ethic and helped me learn how to manage time and plan ahead for deadlines. Coming into college, I felt so much more prepared for the work load and routine that I was getting myself into. Teachers and administrators at my high school have asked me multiple times if high school prepared me for the challenges of Georgia Tech, and I’ve answered yes each time. Giving it a second thought though, it wasn’t my high school in general; it was purely and simply project-based learning in Studio. There’s nothing else that can take you out of the cookie cutter mold of public education and place you in an environment that will not only better prepare you for the real world, but is much like the real world.
It’s not been until now that I’ve really been able to appreciate what project-based learning did for me. If I hadn’t been granted the opportunities I was granted in my time in high school, I don’t know who or where I would be in college or in life right now. I owe a lot to Studio and the teachers that shaped my high school experience directly, and my college experience indirectly. I can’t say one bad thing about it, and I’ll forever be grateful.
COMMENTARY: I’ll be brief. This student took full advantage of what the PBL classroom offered the moment she entered my classroom. The reality is that not all of her cohort members acted in the same manner or took up the mantle of PBL as she did; however, what I think we get to see here in her words is the power of PBL when it is embraced at the high school level. The opportunities afforded her continue to open doors, and she possesses a skill set many of her peers simply do not. PBL is not a cure-all, but it is an opportunity for all. The tricky truth of opportunity is you have to be looking for it before it sprints by without so much as a second glance.